A digital customer experience playbook for retailers

08.06.2020
11 min.

Excessive supply, overwhelming competition, and the omnipresent imperative of digital transformation have made the quality of customer experience management a differentiating factor in many verticals, ecommerce included. As new technologies are changing the way companies and customers interact, the latter regard great experience as an essential part of shopping.

Salesforce proves it with numbers:

Great experience as an essential part of shopping

In 2018, Gartner presented their CX Pyramid, reporting that 81% of CX leaders were going to compete mostly or entirely on customer experience. Each level of the Pyramid, from bottom to top, is a step toward building more powerful customer experiences:

The CX Pyramid

In this customer-centric age, many industries have to shape their activities around the evolution of customer needs. However, some industries, like ecommerce, have to go through a greater load of changes and resort to ingenious psychology-driven approaches, accelerating their adoption of advanced technologies.

What is the modern customer’s psychological profile?

When CX leaders talk about modern customers, they mean customers sharing the following features:

Technology-savvy

The modern customer owns a personal computer, a smartphone, a smartwatch, a tablet, and, more often than not, a smart speaker. All of these are used as brand interaction channels.

Well-informed

Today people rarely purchase without prior research. With access to information whenever they want it, they already have a list of requirements once they set to browse their options. It means that customers complete more than half of their journey prior to arriving at a certain product category, let alone a certain product.

Driven by emotions

Excessive supply and busy lives push people to constantly make choices and make them fast. Conscious choices take so much energy that, when it comes to the final decision, people often employ emotional, irrational choice to avoid burnout while still keeping the illusion of control.

Out-of-time

As modern customers have more than enough on their plate, they value those experiences that let them save time and effort.

Over-sophisticated

Customers have seen it all. They know perfectly well what a great experience is, thus treating every experience that doesn’t live up to this definition as ‘not that great’.

The anatomy of a digital customer 2020

Building a customer-first model

In order to build a customer-first model, retailers need to act within the framework of digital customer experience management.

Digital customer experience management is a set of technology-driven practices allowing for real-time or near-real-time personalized reactions to customer interactions across channels, which result in generating brand loyalty.

Obviously, technology is a key enabler when it comes to understanding the context of interacting with each customer and serving tailored experiences, but it shouldn’t define your customer experience strategy. What retailers need is to get all customer-facing departments on board, visualize the customer journey, and support it with relevant technologies.

Let’s see how to do it.

Make your CX strategy agile

2020 has shown that ecommerce businesses not only need to survive the raging competition, they plainly need to survive. Here is where having the foundation for such adaptability is critical. Those businesses which are able to react to unexpected changes, restructure their processes, listen to their customers as they go, and seize any emerging opportunity are better equipped to pass the crisis.

What actually hampers the CX agility? Adobe’s 2020 Digital Trends Report looks at the reasons in detail:

Top three barriers to CX digital success

First of all, there’s a cultural shift need to break from immobilizing stability and achieve agility with the buy-in from the executives and across the company. Larger businesses find it hard to be agile due to complex hierarchical relationships. Consequently, cutting through functional silos and encouraging participation on all levels is an imperative.

Once the cultural transformation is in full swing, there’s the need to feed it with the new processes powered by agile technologies:

Cloud solutions

A cloud-based infrastructure and enterprise cloud solutions are perhaps the greatest investment a company can make into its long-term resilience. They allow for scalability through connecting multiple data sources and integrating with different apps. At the same time, they can be securely accessed from any device anywhere in the world.

DevOps enablement

Professional DevOps services foster collaboration between development, IT operations, QA, and security teams, ensure faster delivery and low-risk incremental changes with the CI/CD approach.

Build the data strategy around the customer

We live not only in the customer-centric age but also in the age of data. Various industries view data as a priority. However, not everyone succeeds in acting on data they have.

When it comes to retailers, they face a super-task: to build complex data-based customer journeys that embrace multiple touchpoints. What’s more, to render truly personalized experience and anticipate customers’ next actions, retailers need to access and manage data in real time.

It’s not enough just to own some data and try applying any insights to your customer experience management. In order to mine data within the right context and render truly applicable insights, you need to first separate customer data from all other data you have (operational, financial, etc.), determine what questions it answers now and what questions you’d actually like it to answer.

Here are some prerequisites needed for a data analytics strategy that is effective:

Democratization of data and analytics

More often than not, data resides in silos and works for a particular department that shares just a small fraction of vital information with the rest of the organization. It results in inconsistent methods of data analysis and an incomplete customer picture, delivers mixed messages, and leaves the customer with a thought: “They have no idea who I am.” For this reason, all customer-facing departments need to collaborate and share their customer-related data as well as have access to the analytics based on a shared data pool.

A single source of truth

To get a 360-degree view of a customer and enable connected digital experience across channels, it’s important to connect all customer data sources to a single hub. This way, you will be able to capture consent and preferences, consolidate customer identities, analyze which channels they use, visualize their journeys, and render personalized experience across all touchpoints. Pay attention to cloud-based customer data platforms and CRMs that allow integrating different data sources, deduplicating data, and aggregate data in one place.

Data narrative

Even when data is stored in a hub, it still maintains its natural fragmented state. That’s why, instead of delivering generalized conclusions based on the accumulated data, it’s much more efficient to take collected data fragments or even look at them in real time, connect them to customers’ real emotions (like gratitude, comfort, urgency, loyalty, etc.), and as a result get stories of your customers’ journeys where it’s easier to see for the roots of problems and fix those much faster.

Predictive and real-time analytics

Data is useless unless it’s interpreted properly. It’s important to tell which type of data analytics matches the current situation better:

Predictive analytics is suitable for analyzing customer behavior patterns during the times of stability when predictions for longer periods (months, half a year, a year) show accuracy.

Real-time analytics is suitable for analyzing hourly and daily changes in customer behavior in the times of crisis and uncertainty when predictions stop working.

Data security and transparency

With regulations like the GDPR and CCPA in place, customers are becoming aware of their data sensitivity and start caring about how their data is used by companies. They generally approve of data collection in exchange for great customer experience. However, they prefer setting limits for the data they are ready to share.

Invasive and responsive CX

In order to build a trusted digital relationship, retailers need to take care of two important issues when dealing with customer data: its security and transparency of use.

Here’s what ecommerce owners need to do to tackle these two issues:

Data security and transparency

Luckily, there are cloud-based platforms that can take care of both issues. For example, GDPR-compliant SAP products, such as SAP Customer Data Cloud and SAP Commerce Cloud, ensure data security and assist with GDPR compliance by default.

Boost usability

Usability deeply connects with customers’ sense of comfort and convenience and proves to be one of the major components of digital customer experience. Customers who visit a web store always expect finding what they come for, using the payment method most convenient for them, being protected from excessive ads and interstitials, and being able to buy using a device of their choice.

When building digital customer journeys, retailers should focus on such important aspects as search, payment, and device-agnostic CX.

Smart navigation

When customers come to a web store, they should immediately understand how to reach product/service categories, find the search bar, and use breadcrumbs to jump easily back to the categories. If a store has thousands of items, it’s a good idea to enable an auto-filling function for popular searches as well as provide recommendations for similar or complementary items.

Easy checkout

Complicated and obscure checkout increases customers’ frustration and cart abandonment levels. Here’s a brief guide to streamlining checkout:

  • Allow guest checkout and ask if guests would like to create an account after the transaction is complete
  • Don’t make customers fill in the same information twice
  • Display the total amount and number of items as customers add more in their cart
  • Provide payment and shipment options right on the cart page
  • Aim at providing various payment options
  • Make a payment button clearly visible

Mobile-first CX

According to the Shopper-First Retailing report from Salesforce and Sapient, mobile accounts for 92% of ecommerce order growth and 60% of overall traffic. It’s no wonder as mobile commerce enables shopping to happen anywhere thus saving our most valuable resource—time. People find it particularly convenient to use their mobile devices for research, customer support, and purchase of familiar products.

Mobile order share

There’s simply no other choice but to follow a mobile-first strategy to create frictionless customer journeys by matching their responsive websites with mobile app development.

Note that mobile apps make sense when they add value different from that of a responsive website. For example, by serving mobile-exclusive promos and in-app loyalty programs, or by offering cross-channel cart synchronization and being able to interact with in-store beacons.

Immersive experience

Web stores lack one fundamental feature that keeps brick-and-mortar alive—customers can’t touch and explore products online to the same extent. Here’s where immersive technologies come into play. Think HD videos, 360-degree product demonstration, unpacking experience, tutorials, VR tours, and AR product visualization.

Go omnichannel

Today, nobody shops exclusively through a single channel. Depending on the context, customers reach out to retailers via brick-and-mortar stores, online stores, mobile apps, social media, online marketplaces, etc. Customers don’t treat different channels as separate companies but expect consistent experience and feel frustrated when treated as strangers. Successful retailers not only provide connected experience but also engage customers across different touchpoints to make them stay.

Customers go omnichannel

Retailers need to realize that customer journeys are non-linear but fragmented across different touchpoints. In order to connect those scattered journey episodes into one that’s cohesive, retailers need to meet their customers where they are, providing consistent experience.

Move to a cloud-based CRM

A cloud-based CRM can be used as a hub for different data sources that will provide all customer-facing departments with access to complete customer profiles and channel-based analytics.

Leverage IoT

Connected devices, such as sensors, beacons, or cameras ‘talking’ to customers’ smartphones and wearables bridge online and offline worlds. Additionally, IoT in retail is a powerful source of behavioral data that can be used for improving in-store experience, spanning such use cases as in-store engagement, mobile checkout, click-and-collect, and more.

Sell on social media

If retailers want to be where their customers are, they need to be on social media. It is not only about driving referral traffic from social networks to their online store. Social media are now actively used as search engines with in-platform checkout options, which means that customers can make purchases without ever leaving a social media app.

Social commerce provides much more streamlined customer journeys than traditional commerce. It lets retailers tap into customers’ psychology feeding their need for exploration, social proof, and entertainment. With the help of contextual ads and social proof by influencers, customers begin their journey when they are most engaged.

Retailers can leverage automated chatbot-enabled checkout as well as payment and delivery autofill to cut the process to minimum clicks and leave less time for the customer to abandon the purchase. What’s more, it’s possible to integrate social media with ecommerce platforms within one continuous omnichannel strategy.

Employ a voice interface

Voice-activated devices, such as smart speakers and kiosks, shape customers’ behavior and become part of their journeys. Customers use voice to research, check prices, and place orders.

Voice assistants for online shopping

Though voice commerce is still in the experimentation phase, customers already feel quite comfortable to order familiar items or services by voice. What’s more, according to the Shopper-First Retailing report from Salesforce and Sapient, 70% of customers who own smart speakers use voice for at least one shopping-related activity.

In order to make voice interfaces a part of their omnichannel strategy and deliver cohesive customer experiences, store owners can leverage Google, Apple, or Amazon voice skills or use platforms with AI-powered voice assistants in order to make these assistants learn and understand the intent of customers’ requests, run transactions, and engage in upselling.

Turn personalization into hyper-personalization

Customers’ growing appetites for great digital experiences make retailers face new challenges. In 2019, according to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report, 71% of customers expected companies to communicate with them in real time. That’s why retailers need to find ways to match this demand.

When thousands of customers expect unique personalized treatment, it’s not a job for human workers. In this case, proper infrastructure is key to pairing data with modeling capabilities and delivering hyper-personalized experiences in real time. It usually requires a technical solution integrated with multiple data sources, workflow automation, AI-powered insights, and context-based recommendations.

Leverage an intelligent platform

A single platform with built-in AI makes it easier to connect data from online and offline sources, foresee problems, automate repetitive tasks, and provide customer-facing departments with real-time insights into customer behavior as well as the possibility to act on them.

Marketing AI use cases

Appeal to emotions

In the report Exploring the Value of Emotion-Driven Engagement, Deloitte found that making intelligent platforms recognize and use emotional data at scale is one of the biggest and most important opportunities for companies to stay competitive in the long-term. This way, humanization of digital systems by means of AI-powered sentiment analysis of unified data allows for delivering experiences that customers perceive as real connections.

Employ recommendation engines

AI-driven recommendations are still one of the most popular and efficient uses of AI. While it allows web stores to cross-sell and upsell, it helps customers find what they look for much faster, without devoting hours to endless scrolling, as well as prevents them from abandoning the page when they can’t find the needed product.

Recommendation engines

Web stores need to make use of recommendation engines fit for a dynamic environment, to deliver recommendations based on search history and generate new recommendations based on clicks, thus learning to serve relevant recommendations even to new users.

Provide multiple customer support options

Customer support is a holy grail of any customer-centric company. Even the greatest products can’t keep customers in case of a bad support experience. What’s more, modern customers prefer different support channels for the reasons of personal choice and convenience. It means that retailers should strive to eliminate barriers with different support options:

  • Phone and voice assistants for those customers who have no time to type or those who need to solve their problem hands-free, for example while driving.
  • Email for those who would like to keep the correspondence arranged in threads in their inbox.
  • Website chat with support agents for those who would like to speed up the problem-solving or for following up.
  • Chatbots for replying to typical questions or helping outside of working hours.
  • Self-help for covering frequently asked questions, providing educational materials, and relieving customer support during Cyber Week and holiday season.
  • Social messengers to interact with customers instantly.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes

Innovations and the growing standards of digital customer experience shape consumers’ expectations and make retailers seek new ways to satisfy their audience. A great experience today is synonymous with effortless. In order to be on the same page with customers, retailers not only need to adopt advanced technologies but also view their customers holistically, tap into their psychology, find their pain points, understand what drives and delights them, and then deliver on these identified needs.